Posts tagged “avian

Sweet Briar Lake, North Dakota

Yes, you can hear the trucks in the background from I-94 but that is the only negative thing about this wonderful place.

Driving across country last summer, my husband and I were always on the lookout for nice, clean, free campgrounds.  We found a handful that we remember with fondness and this one tops the list.

Sweet Briar Lake was created by a dam if I remember correctly, and it appears to be a good fishing spot.  But if you care about birds, this place is a bonanza.  From just our little spot overlooking the lake we watched white pelicans, double-crested cormorants and Canada geese swim around and generally busy themselves, and heard red-winged blackbirds make their lovely background music.  Most likely a walk around the lake would have resulted in seeing more species but we were more than thrilled to just stay put and enjoy this peaceful display.


Kolea, Akekeke & Honu

It’s interesting to see which bird species congregate together, or at least tolerate each other if their habitats overlap.  In this case it’s the Pacific Golden-Plover and Ruddy Turnstone, or in Hawaiian terms Kolea and Akekeke, respectively.

These birds were foraging on the lava rock beach on the western coast of the Big Island of Hawaii.  The turnstone is keeping itself busy in the shallow pool, bathing and looking for food, possibly turning stones over like its name implies it should.  It draws the attention of two plovers who seem determined to intimidate the turnstone, or at the very least keep an eye on him or her.  The plovers are only slightly larger than the turnstone, 1/4 inch in length, according to National Geographic Field Guides, but maybe that’s enough to be the generally more dominant species.  There are photos of other sights in this area underneath the video, such as a green sea turtle (Honu, in Hawaiian), a wasp and what I think is a Wandering Tattler.


Randall Davey Audubon Center, Santa Fe

My husband and I were a little disappointed about only seeing a couple of birds at the Randall Davey Audubon Center in Santa Fe but we went during the hottest part of the day in early May so we weren’t too surprised.

There were numerous finches at the feeder, a gorgeous hawk moth at some flowers, a squirrel keeping busy digging in the dirt, and an unknown bird foraging in the bushes and parking lot.

What makes this place special are of course the volunteers and the beautiful terrain including the hillside trails, and the gorgeous adobe buildings.  And the awesome bee hotel deserves a mention.  I’d like to go back someday when it’s a little cooler, perhaps in the winter when there are more birds around.


Salida, Colorado: Sands Lake SWA

The second part to the amazing May 2017 birding experience I had in Salida, Colorado was Sands Lake State Wildlife Area.  It consists of Sands Lake and a stretch of the Arkansas River – my husband and I spent about an hour walking the lovely trails and walkway along the river.

The lake has had a lot of effort put into it to be bird friendly.  Two islands naturally create a safe atmosphere for waterbirds like pelicans, geese and ducks.  And at least two nesting platforms have been put up, as well as a handful of (floating?) platforms scattered around the lake.

The most exciting sighting of the day was an American Dipper, a first for me.  And I even managed to get a decent shot of it.

We also saw a yellow-rumped warbler, several yellow warblers, cedar waxwings, and tree swallows in areas along the river and lake.  A memorable sighting was the pair of ospreys, one on a nest and the other perched on a light pole nearby.  Below are the rest of the photos.  Hope you get to visit Salida some day!


Raven’s nest in moose antlers

A few years ago I went with my husband up the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay.  We stopped a few different places including a storage yard and former state camp called Happy Valley where I found one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever happened upon… a raven’s nest in a mounted rack of moose antlers with two babies in it!


Wild Turkeys in Hawaii

Wild urkey on the Big Island of Hawaii

There are tons of wild turkeys on the Big Island of Hawaii!  They roam the golf courses and lava rock fields searching for insects, lizards, seeds, berries and anything else that’s edible and relatively small.   It’s a lovely thing to see.

The Wild Turkey evolved in America and was domesticated by Native Americans.  In the early 1500s turkeys domesticated by the Aztecs were taken to Europe and interestingly enough, their descendants were brought back to America by the pilgrims who soon found out their indigenous neighbors were raising them too.

They spread to China and in 1788 they were introduced from there to the Hawaiian islands. Over the years, more have been released, whether purposely or not, by ranches and farms and perhaps by people who wanted to hunt them.  Currently you can hunt them on the island along with pheasant, doves, francolin, quail, as well as introduced mammals such as goats, sheep and boar.

Turkeys especially prosper on the Big Island because of it’s dry grassy sloping landscapes, and as you can see, they seem right at home.


An Entwined Zebra Dove

Stage at Ala Moana Mall - Honolulu, HawaiiThe Ala Moana Mall in Honolulu Hawaii is not exactly a birder’s paradise.  If you’ve ever been there Zebra Dove on stage at Ala Moana Mallyou’ve probably seen the stage near the Waikiki side entrance.  On the day of my visit it was draped in red curtains that created a deeply textured vision of color on the floorboards.  Hence the photographs.

Oftentimes birds are there, probably because people feed them.  Mall birds.  Not exactly picturesque herons or majestic bluebirds.  More like zebra doves and rock doves (pigeons).  (Are pigeons, like, flying mall rats?)

But every one of those mall birds are just as worthy and deserving of life as any heron or bluebird.  So it broke my heart when I discovered that this little zebra dove had its legs entangled with some of kind of thread or very thin fibers.  The poor thing managed to walk but its appearance was disheveled, skinny, sickly.  The entanglement was taking its toll.Entwined Zebra Dove  You can see its entwined legs clearly in the silhouette photo on the left (click to enlarge).

I look back at that moment with regret.  I regret that I did not help that bird.  I Zebra Dove on Ala Moana Mall stagecould have found some big gloves and grabbed the bird and cut that twisted piece of twine that was holding it hostage.  That would have at least given it a chance.

As you can see it came right over to me, along with several pigeons, probably looking for a generous person tossing scraps.  It was close enough to me so that I could have done it!

But no, there were no gloves and I am not that gutsy.  Not that spontaneous.  And maybe it’s not a good idea to touch a bird that might be diseased or to take these matters into my own hands.

All I know is, we need to do more for the birds that are affected by our carelessness.

This is what a healthy zebra dove looks like, found right down the street near the Ala Wai Boat Harbor.

Zebra Dove in Waikiki


Raven yanks another raven’s tail

The average adult raven is about 2.5 pounds and it’s hard to tell adults from juveniles.  The below video shows a power struggle between ravens at a food source.  At the very beginning you can see a raven on the far left grab another raven’s tail feathers with his beak and pull him or her away from the food.  Another seems to join in.  (By the way, if the video is blurry find the settings in the bottom right hand corner of the player and change it to a higher resolution.  Youtube automatically chooses a low setting so it will download faster.)

After reading Ravens in Winter, a book by Bernd Heinrich, I’m inclined to believe that the commotion going on in the video has to do with a power struggle (to gain access to the food) between the juvenile birds and the adults.  According to Heinrich, adults are usually silent at carcasses (dead animals in the wild), and juveniles are very noisy.  The juveniles “yell” at kills and make a commotion, possibly to attract more juveniles to the kill, in order to compete with the adults and gain access to the food.

Heinrich “proves” through observation and careful note-taking that ravens actively recruit other ravens to food piles.  He speculates, after studying raven behavior for many years, that this recruitment is not necessarily altruistic, or done in order to get the favor back some day.  Instead, it is probably related more to “gaining or maintaining access to the food than to sharing the wealth.”

Juveniles actively recruit, in order to overwhelm by sheer numbers, the adults at the carcass, so that the adults will give up defending the carcass, which they do when they are just too outnumbered.

So if we can extend this power struggle at carcasses in the field to city food (trash) then it’s possible the squawking raven in the video, the one being pulled from the food by his or her tail feathers, is likely a juvenile, being bossed around by the adults, who are not as vocal.

I strongly encourage any bird lover to read Ravens in Winter.  This bird that I see nearly every day of my life is actually quite mysterious and Heinrich helps us understand their possible and likely motivations.

Thanks for reading!  Happy New Year!

 


Black-Capped Chickadee Beak Deformity

Chickadee with beak deformityI made this little animation to show how this poor chickadee was being bothered by its beak deformity.  Every so often it would rub its beak against the edge of the bird feeder like this.  It appeared relatively healthy so it must have been able to eat satisfactorily, but apparently this deformity causes it to be obsessive about trying to scrape off the excess beak.


Image

Raven, in the winter sun

Raven in Tree


Bird Congregation

I don’t think this is a very common sight on the coastal plains of northern Alaska (or anywhere?), but as my husband drove in to Prudhoe Bay last spring, he spied this unusually large gathering of various birds.

Raven, Rough-Legged HawkThe rough-legged hawk and raven seem to be acting as sentries over the vast flocks, but they are watching for sinister purposes.

Rough-legged HawkYes, watching carefully.

Rough-legged hawk eating a duckSure enough,  a hawk has gotten herself a meal.

Rough-legged hawk But really, how can you blame her?

Short-eared OwlA short-eared owl perches nearby.

Kind of hard to believe that little twig can hold him up.  He must be all fluff.

And life goes on….


Redpoll Baby (and it just stopped snowing!)

Redpoll Baby

I’m happy to say my husband caught the birding bug!  He took this photo of a juvenile redpoll.  I would even go as far as calling it a baby redpoll.  It’s hard to tell how tiny it is, but he said just a couple inches, really small.  The short tail feathers probably enhance the tiny effect.

We’re a bit surprised that there are fledged redpolls this early in the spring.  It stopped snowing less than 2 weeks ago!  And now it’s 70 degrees, go figure.  Either way, my husband said this little guy flew away,barely, so maybe he or she will have a fighting chance.


Redpoll: Adapted to Gorging

Common Redpoll - Fairbanks, Alaska

These redpolls, and many more, are coming to our feeder lately in droves.   I’ve started putting seed out one or two times a day instead of letting them gorge themselves at the feeder nonstop.  I don’t want to test it out but I would be willing to bet they could empty the  entire contents of the feeder in only one day. (It’s on the small side but can still fit at least a quart jar’s worth of sunflower hearts.)

It’s unbelievable how much they can eat.  My guess as to how many birds visit the feeder per day is perhaps 30 to 40, though it could be upwards of 100 or more stopping by once a day (or less often).

Actually, they aren’t eating most of the seed.  Apparently they store it in their “esophageal diverticulum” and regurgitate it later to eat in peace.

Redpoll - Fairbanks, Alaska

These two”on-alert” fine fellows might actually be females (lack of red on their chests).

Once late May and June arrive, the birds practically disappear, so even if they are acting like little piggies at the trough right now, we still enjoy them!


“Planned Pigeonhood” in Waikiki

Pigeons in WaikikiIf you’ve been fortunate enough to visit the beautiful island of Hawaii you’ve probably visited Honolulu.  And if you’ve visited Honolulu that means you’ve probably been to Waikiki.  And if you’ve been to Waikiki that means you’ve seen the pigeons (a.k.a. rock doves).

Lovely birds, as special as any living creature, but not very popular with the tourists.

Hawaii is a common destination for Alaskans in the winter.  With an almost total lack of sunshine from November to February we pledge to ourselves that this winter we are getting out!  Hopefully it happens.  And there is nary a more direct route to full-on sunshine then the quick five or so hours from Anchorage to Honolulu.

Pigeon missing footThe pigeon on the very left is looking pretty mangy (click on the photo to see it larger).  There are so many pigeons in Waikiki, with no natural predators anywhere in sight, that they over breed and become a danger to themselves and people.  The photo on the right shows another pigeon from Waikiki, this one missing a foot and walking around a restaurant hunting for food scraps and somehow managing to avoid being clobbered.

So when I saw this posting by the Human Society about OvoControl, a contraceptive-laced food that property owners can feed pigeons, I was thrilled.  It describes how the manager of The International Marketplace, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Waikiki, chose to take a chance on the product and saw a 60% reduction in pigeons after 12 months. (It costs $9 a day to feed/treat 100 pigeons.)

Talk about an ideal non-violent and humane solution!  Maybe this will catch on in communities that are fed up with the overpopulation of this city-loving bird.


Puffed Up Pigeons

Pigeons in Fairbanks during 30 below zero (F) weather

It’s amazing that any pigeons at all make it through our frigid Fairbanks winters.

This year we saw several weeks of sustained 30-40 below zero (F) weather and they are still flying around!  (This photo was taken when it was about 30 below.)

They perch at night in attics and eaves, and sometimes in trees.  Some nice people throw seed on the ground outside their homes throughout the winter, and the birds congregate in those places during the day.   Not so much different then me feeding little redpolls and chickadees I suppose!


Bald Eagling in Homer, Alaska

Bald Eagle on DriftwoodMy friend and I drove into Homer, Alaska one evening in April of 2006.  Our trip was fortunately timed – though not purposely – because we caught the eagles still in town.  They were reaping the benefits of friendly human feeders before leaving for summer’s greener pastures.

Bald Eage on a Street LightAs we drove down onto the Homer Spit eagles were perched on nearly every building.  The sun’s long evening rays set them off and they were so still that we asked each other, are they real??  But as we drove down the spit to the Land’s End Hotel, we saw enough of them shuffle their feathers or blink their eyes to know they were totally and gorgeously real.

If I had only thought to take a photo… (Though at that time I used a plain point and shoot which would not have done justice to the moment.)

Over the next couple of days I took plenty of time to walk the beaches and absorb the feelings of a place that was (and still is) pretty much totally foreign to me.  As a landlubber in Alaska I see plenty of wildlife, but usually not the same wildlife as near the coasts.

Bald Eagles, Gulls & Crows

This was a common sight on the beaches, people leaving fish guts and carcases out for the eagles.  Gulls and crows benefit too.

Bald Eagles in Homer, AlaskaI never saw an eagle growing up (bald or not!) until about 10 years ago.  Now I see them at least a couple of times a year in and around Fairbanks.  It could be that as a child or young adult I wasn’t paying attention, but I’d be willing to bet that their population has grownImmature Bald Eagle in Homer, Alaska throughout Alaska over the last couple of decades as it has generally in North America.

On the right you can see the mottled feather pattern of a 2 or 3 year old eagle.  It takes 4 years for an eagle to get its adult plumage and wing length.

Valdez has quite a few bald eagles too, but I’ve never seen this many at a time anywhere but Homer.  (Some day I’ll make it to Haines too for the Alaska Bald Eagle Festival and the Chilkat Preserve.)  If you’re a bald eagle fan all three of these places should be on your list!

Bald Eagle sitting on a nestPeople watching bald eaglesBald Eagle Talon Prints


A chubby Redpoll can’t stop eating

Fat Redpoll

A few years ago a chubby Redpoll visited our feeder.

This antique dish had broken and I couldn’t part with it, so I put seed in it, and the redpoll adopted it.  He (or she) sat right in it and ate and ate and ate.  Like his full switch never got flipped.

He moved quite slow.  My husband and I figured that he was missing some kind of instinct or characteristic that gives birds their fast-twitch, jumpy nature.  Probably something that they need to survive.

He’s puffed up too because of the chilly weather, but this bird was quite unusual in that he was fatter, slower, and never flew away intermittently like the other birds.  He was totally content to eat continuously, rarely looking up.  This was the very last photo I took and out of at least 20, this is the only time I got him looking up.

After watching hundreds or even thousands of birds at the feeder over the years, this little guy’s behavior was profoundly different than all the others.


To Feed or Not to Feed

Junco that just hit the window

This junco hit our second story window and sat stunned, but alive, here on the ground last summer.  Juncos are sweet little birds that we see from May to September all around our house pecking at seeds on the ground.  They visit our feeder during this time but mostly stay on the floor of the deck or on the ground under the feeder, hopping around picking up fallen sunflower heart pieces and birch seeds.  They can leave so late in the season, I believe, because they are only flying as far as the southern coast of Alaska where it doesn’t freeze so hard in the winter.

Junco that hit the windowMy husband and I immensely love watching our feeder birds:  redpolls, juncos, chickadees, and hairy and downy woodpeckers.  He often places small amounts of bird seed on the snow mounds that cover the deck railings and flower pots in the winter so that redpolls don’t have to mob the feeder and so that we can see them closer.  We stand at the window and marvel at how they can live at 30 below zero, and at their quick movements and little arguments.

But I wonder that having a bird feeder is the best thing for the birds.  Many birds hit our windows, but by far most of them end up alive (though certainly a bit damaged afterwards).  After they hit the windows as they sit stunned until they are able to fly away, they are undoubtedly vulnerable to predation.  There’s a neighborhood cat that I fear visits in the wee hours of the morning in the summer and I have no idea if it uses the feeder as a baiting station.  I have no evidential reason to believe this but am concerned.  Other than that cat our neighborhood totally lacks outdoor cats as far as we can tell.  This one we’ve only seen twice in our 5 years here.  (And our two cats don’t go outside without being chaperoned.)

Feeding birds seems on the surface not a bad idea.  But is it good to get them reliant on what we provide?  So that they lose just a little bit of their natural foraging skills to their eventual detriment?  What about the seed itself… are there pesticides on it, or fungicides?  Is it even good for a redpoll or chickadee to eat that much sunflower heart instead of what it would normally find in nature?  Could there sometimes be mold on the seeds that would be dangerous to the birds?  Is feeding birds related to the sickness of chickadees that results in 6-10% of them having beak deformities?  I’ve read up a bit on this topic and there are not a lot of answers to be had (although plenty of guesses and opinions).

So unfortunately, I’m not convinced that feeding birds is the absolute right thing to do, but I’m unwilling to give it up unless I see direct evidence that it harms them more than it helps them.  The only way I know for sure that it harms them is when they hit the windows.  Redpolls eating seed outside windowI’ve went to great lengths to try to prevent it, such as wiring and beads that I once strung across our largest window for a few years.  The thing is, I know that they would hit the windows even if we didn’t purposefully draw them here to our house with food.

Alas, it would be a sad sad day for my husband and I if we were to decide that the harm to the birds outweighs the benefits (to us and the birds).

You can see here the redpolls chowing down today on the seed my husband has strewn on the snow in front of the window.  The temperature gauge doesn’t go colder than 20 below – it’s about 30 below zero (F) right now.  I can’t imagine those poor little guys can’t use some extra food at this temperature!

But am I justifying?  This summer I plan to try something else on the windows:  CDs strung on wires or string.  I’ve also switched out the bird feeder when it was just too hard to clean anymore.  Any tips are welcome!  Thanks for reading.


A Snow Bunting at Pictured Rocks

I saw a snow bunting once before, in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.  In its summer garb.  But this one I spied on a gravel road in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan in its winter plumage. My husband and I were in the middle of a 6 week long road trip that started and ended at our home in Fairbanks, Alaska, but that took us through 4 Canadian provinces and at least 14 states.  And of all the amazing times we had this snow bunting was actually pretty special because it was one of the few close encounters with birds that I had over the whole 6 weeks.

Michigan’s scenery, little did I know, is astoundingly beautiful!  I had no idea there were sand dunes in the Midwest!  Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (on left) is a must-see part of North America.

As is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on thePictured Rocks National Lakeshore - Michigan Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  You can see red-orange sandstone that is 500 million years old in the photo on the right.  This cliff has been beautifully sculpted by the waters of Lake Superior.  The interesting part is that even though the rock that makes up the landform is hundreds of millions of years old, the cliff itself that you see jutting out into the water is only a few thousands of years old.  No landform around this area could be older than 12,000 years old because that’s when glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age.  But this land is rising.  It has risen far enough up since then, and been sculpted by the forces of erosion, to give us a spectacular view of rock formations that used to be buried.

So as my husband and I are visiting this most scenic of places, this snow bunting is pick pick picking at bits of something along a gravel road, letting me get closer and closer with my camera.

He must have just arrived from more northerly climes, smartly getting busy eating as many seeds and insects that he can before the coming winter.  Snow buntings spend the summer in Alaska and northern Canada and before winter fly to the Midwest of America, southern Canada, and the coastlines of Alaska.  Males have darker heads in the winter and more black on their wings, like this little guy.

I know all this about snow buntings now because I have my handy birding books around me.  But when I was taking the photos I thought maybe it was a sparrow of some kind.  To my delight, when I finally got home and looked it up I found out it was a snow bunting which is not a sparrow.  I would have never recognized it because the one I saw in Prudhoe Bay was in it’s June breeding plumage which is mostly white.  Moral of the story:  take at least one birding book with you on your road trip!

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore


A Lovebird in Alaska

Let me tell you a story about a little lovebird.

About 10 years ago, her and her mate were adopted by my mother, myself, and my sister.  We make up a small real estate office, and they were given to us by one of our clients who was moving out of state.  The lovebird pair became a fixture in our office.  We bought them a large cage, toys and whatever else we thought could make them happy.  They had several broods, which were adopted out, with any left being brought to the local pet store for a credit in bird food.

After we had them for about 5 years, the male died.  He seemed sick and groggy one day, then the next morning someone found him stiff on the bottom of the cage.  A sad day, and we were all worried about the female since everyone told us that lovebirds need a mate or they will die.

By then though, we had adopted another bird, a parakeet.  In the course of showing an apartment a few months before, a tenant who was moving out said he was going to let his kid’s parakeet out into the wild so that in its last days at least it could have some freedom.  Malarkey, I thought, that bird will be terrified.  It will die of shock and lack of food in no time, or some ravens will kill it.  So luckily, our lone female lovebird had a friend by the time her husband died, already set up in a small cage next to her big cage.

They chirped at each other, inches away but separated by 2 sets of bars, conversing continually and seemingly very happy.  It makes me wonder, were they speaking the same language?

I didn’t name them.  Birds to me are animals that belong in the wild, along with all other exotics like snakes, lizards, turtles, etc.  Unless you can create an ecosystem that is so near to being like their natural one, with all the animal’s social needs met as well, then fine.  But otherwise, I can’t support it.  There are probably some exceptions such as animals that can bond with humans – like some birds and mammals, but not reptiles.  My nieces owned rats for a time and those little creatures seemed truly thrilled with their highfalutin’ lifestyle.  So with some exceptions my feelings about exotic pets are on the skeptical side although I recognize this is a complicated issue.  I try not to be judgmental, but a snake or lizard just simply cannot be happy in a glass terrarium.  And furthering the trade of exotics – whether illegal or not – is just wrong.

So with these feelings in mind, it was with a huge amount of regret that I purchased a replacement parakeet buddy for the lovebird when the adopted one died.  I was so concerned that she would live a tortured existence without a friend, dying alone and sad.  I actually tried to get one that looked exactly the same as the old parakeet, thinking I could fool her.  So silly, I think now.  She is way too smart.

Over the years I have observed her observing me.  I’ve seen her peer intently at every move I make in or around her cage, changing her bathing water, her drinking water, her food.  We are tentative friends.  I’m sure I’m not one of the scary ones, like children of clients who make loud noises or poke fingers in her cage.  When someone talks loudly in front of her cage or appears suddenly she always retreats to the far corner, behind a big wad of hanging toys. She is shy and reserved and I don’t blame her for being that way at all.

A few days ago my mother was cleaning the cage when the phone rang and she accidentally left the cage door open.  When she came back after some time, she exclaimed to the young people sitting there waiting for their parents that the bird could have gotten out of the cage since she had left the door open!  She did, the kids said.  They explained that she had flown up to perch on the cubicle divider for a little while, and then flew back into her cage!

So I hope that means she likes her roomy cage, and that she feels safe there.  And I know she is smart.  I believe any animal that has curiosity must have some sort of intelligence.  One time my sister was changing her bathing water and the slider got propped open accidentally, and when my sister returned she was peering out through the hole at the world without bars in between.  That takes awareness and observation.

So when we call someone a bird brain, I really don’t understand why that is an insult.  The people who came up with that phrase had it wrong.  Their whole idea of intelligence is based on human-centric thinking that says we are the pinnacle of nature, the only worthy creatures on earth.  But aren’t we the ones polluting our world to point where we’re concerned for the future?  If smarts are based on foresight and planning for the future, humans are not all that smart.

Critiques on the state of human affairs aside, this post was inspired by a video on pbs.org about Alex the parrot and Irene Pepperberg, his researcher and best friend who taught him to communicate with her.  It’s a must watch for people who see that animals have intelligence.  This is proof, plain and simple.

When you see how the parrot is able to answer questions that take insight and intelligence, it makes me think that this world and it’s inhabitants need more care and consideration than humans give them presently.  That they deserve more respect.  At the very least, we should not automatically assume other living things are emotionless unintelligent creatures.

Thanks for reading!


A Bridge to the Birds of Paradise

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve was the single most heavenly tropical place I’ve ever been.  Even without the amazing birding experience, I would go back in a second.

Sian Ka’an is close to Tulum, Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula – a dazzling coastal ecosystem.  My husband and I rambled along in our rented Jeep with no A/C on a long white gravel road that winds along the coast of the Caribbean Sea.  It was a drop dead gorgeous sunny hot day.  The shining white beaches were radiant even with the washed-up garbage strewn about.  I hopped over photo op after photo op, looking for pieces of beach glass (something I could do for days, weeks, months!).

If it had been our choice, my husband and I would have driven that road till the end. But as we all know, daylight is limited and vacation time goes especially fast.

Possibly the best part of Sian Ka’an was the old weathered bridge that stood alongside the newer bridge that we traveled on.  They cross a beautiful blue-green river that flows into the ocean.  You can see a video of them here.

Locals fished off the bridges, breezes relieved the heat, and I found bird after bird to photograph.   To the left are female and male Great-Tailed Grackles.  The gull, tern, and turnstone were firsts for me (below).

I’ll fondly remember this old weathered bridge for all my days, along with the fine feathered friends I met that day.


Reflections on the Sandhill Crane

The Sandhill Crane has a lot of personality.  From their rattling call to their long legs and red banded eyes, you can’t mistake one.  Especially given it’s statuesque 4 foot height… good thing they don’t want to get too close to us because they would probably be quite intimidating!

The one on the left popped up at a pond my husband and I like to visit near our house.  In May, full of mosquitoes, but an unexpected sweet birding spot.  This bird wanted us to remove ourselves quickly.  I presume it was spreading its wings in an attempt to make itself look bigger and more menacing.  It was having a private moment, who are we to interrupt!?  So we snapped a couple shots and skedaddled.  (Although I don’t know that this would be a safe place to make a nest because of neighborhood dogs or other wandering animals like foxes.)

As you can see, they have a lot of color variation, in fact their rust and gray blend is quite striking, having an almost metallic glint to it.

The photos on the right are from Creamer’s Field, an awesome place in Fairbanks to see migrating cranes, geese, and ducks.  (I’ll do a post on it in the future.)  The pair on the right must be a parent and offspring, since the one hasn’t attained adult coloring of gray and red face.  If you want to see a short video of this pair click here, but if you do, keep an eye peeled for the Canada Geese in the background waddling through the grass.

The splendid artwork on the left was found driving through North Dakota or thereabouts, and if I remember right they were celebrating a crane festival.  Apparently, I’m not the only one who finds Sandhill Cranes to be extraordinary creatures!       —————————

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Why did the Lesser Yellowlegs cross the road?

To lead me away from her nesting site most likely!

It’s not too hard to find Lesser Yellowlegs in interior Alaska during the summer months if you get a ways out of town near some water.  And you’ll know you found one when you hear that mind-numbing “TU TU TU” alarm call.  (You can hear it here.)

The Greater Yellowlegs – a larger version of this bird – also visits Alaska in the spring and summer, but doesn’t come this far north.  In the winter, Yellowlegs sandpipers can be found in Mexico and the coastal and southern edge of the U.S.

They eat aquatic insects, snails, & small fish, nest in depressions in the ground in bogs and treeless tundra, and give birth to 4 eggs which when hatched are precocial which means they can fend for themselves as soon as their natal down is dry.

It’s hard to believe, but people used to hunt sandpipers like these!  These skinny little birds were game species and apparently market hunters nearly wiped out many types of shorebirds before they were protected in the early 1900s.  Thank goodness!!!

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Curious Townsend’s Warbler

This little guy showed up on our deck about noon in May of 2010.  He was very inquisitive!  I don’t think he took one morsel of food from the feeder, but instead checked everything out very methodically and even peered at us through the window!

I wonder what he saw!?

If only we could know what was going on in that little bird brain of his!